Web accessibility has been making headlines lately due to new regulations and the implementation of certain guidelines. Maintaining an ADA compliant website is in no way easy, but in the long run it is one of the most important things you can do for your site and brand.
What Is Web Accessibility?
This is the first question people ask when looking to get answers about their site's conformance. Web accessibility is exactly what it sounds like: making sure that your website is fully accessible to everyone, including those who live with disabilities. But it goes beyond that. Being fully accessible also benefits those who look at your website on a mobile browser, elderly individuals dealing with changing abilities, and people with temporary disabilities.
Characterization of Accessibility Issues
There are 4 categories when it comes to accessibility issues. They are:
- Perceivable: The ability of the user to find, interact with and process with the website’s content.
- Operable: Issues that affect the visitor’s ability to navigate and use the website.
- Understandable: The user’s ability to comprehend and use the content on the website.
- Robust: Defined as the website’s ability to adapt to and overcome ever-changing technology and the needs of its users.
Why Does My Website Need to Be Accessible?
Not only does making your website accessible have the ability to increase your traffic and reputation, it also may be a legal requirement where you are located.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was initiated in 1990 with a goal of reducing and ending discrimination based on an individual's capabilities. This new national act was based around the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was originally meant for making adaptations to physical locations by adding accessible bathrooms, ramps and various other accommodations.
Here’s the sticky part of the ADA though: it does not directly address web accessibility, even after amendments were made to it in 2008. Because of the enormous increase in lawsuits surrounding website accessibility, other regulations have been created. In 2018 the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were released and put into effect. These regulations clearly lay out what needs to be done to a website to make sure that it is compliant.
WCAG also lays out three levels of compliance to further assist with ensuring that your website is ready for the general and disabled population.
- Level A: This level covers issues that are most important, including issues that can severely limit the use of your site by someone who is disabled.
- Level AA: This covers issues surrounding functionality. This level has also become the target standard for commercial websites.
- Level AAA: This is the highest level of compliance. It incorporates all of the issues from the last two groups and fine-tunes everything so that it becomes a fully accessible website.
The Principles of Accessible Website Design
To make your web page accessible, here are just a few of the things that should be done and/or considered so that everyone can enjoy your content:
- Do not rely on coloring to provide messages and feeling: Although colors can do wonders in getting your message across, for some people the coloring of your website will not convey the message you like. People with color blindness can not detect certain colors, so if you are relying on color to relay your message, it might not work for them. Ensure that you describe somewhere what you are trying to relay to your audience so that everyone can enjoy your work.
- Links and context: When including a link in your body of text, ensure that you describe what the audience is expected to click on. If you label the link as “Click here to learn more,” your audience may not have enough information to make a choice about accessing the content provided in that link. Be descriptive with your links, whether the link is a short description of where it will take them or even just the name of the site.
- Provide alternative text: Providing text alternatives to non-text content allows people with hearing impairments to be able to read the information that is contained in a video, audio clip, etc. It also allows people with visual impairments to use a screen reader to understand what an image shows or conveys.
- Allow use of the “skip” feature: Allowing users to skip navigation and/or other parts of the page allows the user to get directly into the main content.
- Provide captions or transcripts for all media: This guideline ties into providing alternative text. This allows your audience to read through the content of a video if they are unable to get the information through watching the video.
- Appropriate document structure: Use headings, lists, and structure on your website. Make sure that everything is in its proper place, links work, etc. This can also be a huge aid to people who use keyboard navigation instead of traditional mouse/trackpad.
- Make your content easy to read: There are a few things that will help make your content more readable. Use a neutral and appropriately sized font, black text on a white background, and obvious navigation areas.
In conclusion, although the ADA does not directly address issues with web accessibility, it is essential to your business that you ensure that everyone can access your content. Title III of the ADA states, “...every owner, lessor, or operator of a place of public accommodation provides equal access to users who meet the ADA standards.” For the longest time, websites were not considered places of public accommodation. But over the past few years, various different court entities have declared that commercial websites are 100% places of public accommodation and therefore should be subject to ADA rules.
Between the ADA, WCAG, and laws that have been enacted in many states, there are plenty of guidelines to show you how your website should look and operate. Erring on the side of caution is definitely the best option when it comes to designing your site. You can even get a Letter of Conformance, also known as a web accessibility certification, to ensure that it is accessible and compliant. This will allow everyone to visit your page and can bring about many more prominent interactions.